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Decision on bike boulevards will impact Tucson’s bike infrastructure

A street crossing on the 3rd Street bikeway, which is the closest thing to a bike boulevard Tucson currently has. Improvements will make it a full fledged bike boulevard. Photo by Russ Roca of pathlesspedaled.com

A special meeting of the Tucson Pima County Bicycle Advisory Committee on Wednesday could change the way bicycle infrastructure is developed in Tucson.

At issue is whether or not the TPCBAC wants to direct the Regional Transportation Authority and the Bike and Pedestrian Working Group, which control $80 million allocated for bicycle and pedestrian improvements, to make bicycle boulevards a priority.

Bike boulevard supporters like Tucson bike and pedestrian coordinator Tom Thivener, say bike boulevards, which are created on existing neighborhood streets,  will likely increase ridership in Tucson and have been shown to work in places like Portland, Ore.

“We’ve thrown down all these stripes especially with the first couple RTA packages the city has done,” Thivener said. “They are great, they do fill the gaps in the overall network, but they are not going to get a lot people riding. If we are really serious about getting more people riding, we’ll look at alternatives. That is where the bike boulevard discussion comes along because we do have the great grid in place.”

Others, like Norm Land, a TPCBAC member and alternate voting member of the RTA Bike and Pedestrian Working Group, worry that bike boulevards may not work here and don’t want to rush into funding bike boulevards before they are sure they will increase ridership.

“They may be wonderful other places, that doesn’t mean they are going to be great here in Tucson,” Land said.

Thivener said several elements make up a bike boulevard: prioritizing bikes, which is done by moving or eliminating stop signs; decreasing and calming traffic on the street by adding traffic circles to slow down cars and preventing cut through traffic.

Boulevards also implement way-finding signs and pavement markings to alert riders and cars that the street is specifically designed for bikes. Boulevards often include public art and trees to provide shade.

Lastly, bike boulevards add traffic signals like the TOUCAN to get bikes safely across major streets. (Examples of the three pedestrian and bike signals used in Tucson can be found here)

The special meeting, which will be held at the Parkwise conference room (110 E Pennington) at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, was added when members of the TPCBAC decided they needed more time to discuss making bike boulevards a priority for RTA funding.

The RTA was created in 2006 when voters approved a 1/2 cent sales tax that is expected to raise $2.1 billion dollars over the 20-year life of the plan.

Gabe Thum, a transportation planner for the Pima Association of Government, said there are two pots of money that can be used for bicycle and pedestrian projects. The first is the elderly and pedestrian safety pot, which has $20 million. The second pot of money is the greenways, pathways, bikeways and sidewalks pot, which has been allocated $60 million.

The Bike and Pedestrian Working Group oversees how the money is spent. The group was originally made up of jurisdictional members, which included Pima County, City of Tucson, Oro Valley, Marana and other regional governments. Thum said two years ago they opened the working group to members of the public and allowed them to vote on projects.

At the same time, the group decided to create an evaluation process to determine which projects should get funded. Bike boulevards were fairly new and were not one of the priorities listed in the original evaluation process. The priorities at the time were: on street bike lanes, shared-use paths and sidewalks.

Because of the boulevards growing popularity, Thum decided he wanted to get the TPCBAC’s feedback on whether they should become a priority.

Thum said if the TPCBAC decides they should be a priority, it will raise bike boulevards to the same level as other projects and make funding them easier. Currently, projects that fall under the three priorities — bike lanes, shared-use paths and sidewalks — are ranked higher than boulevards.

It is competitive right now to get the RTA funds,” Thivener said.

Land said bike boulevards are unique in that they can receive funding from different sources including sources outside of the RTA. He said officials ought to go after other funding instead of using RTA money.

Thivener said he has tried to get bike boulevards funded outside the RTA and hasn’t been successful.

“The RTA is not the only avenue to go, but it is probably the best one,” Thivener said.

Although Land said he supports bike boulevards, he is hesitant to commit a lot of money to them before making sure they work in Tucson.

“They might work in Amsterdam where the population density is four times Tucson,” Land said.  Their trips are probably quarter-mile, half-mile. Here they’re going to be three, four miles. Are people going to give up their cars? I don’t know.”

Thivener  said you need a lot of bike boulevards to make them work.

“There is a lot of skepticism about whether they work or not,” Thivener said. “I truly believe we need a network of these. You can’t just have one bike boulevard in isolation.”

Land said three bike boulevards have been funded by the RTA, but does not believe they should be compared on a level playing field with paths like the Rillito and Santa Cruz.

“I want to see that they work and even if they work, I don’t know if I am ever going to believe they are equal,” Land said.

Thivener said in addition to increased ridership, boulevards are safer. He compared 2001-2008 crash data on Broadway Boulevard and the 3rd Street bike route from Wilmot Road to Campbell Avenue.

Based on bike counts, they extrapolated that 3,100 riders used 3rd Street on a given day and 450 rode on Broadway. During that period they counted 80 bike crashes on Broadway Boulevard and less than 10 on 3rd Street.

Land said another concern about making boulevards a priority is that they will only benefit the urban core of Tucson.

“Oro Valley isn’t going to build  bike boulevard,” Land said. “Why would they? Boulevards are a core concept and a very good one. The RTA is by definition regional and boulevards are not a regional concept.”

“We want to get ridership up in this community and we realized that the best chance to see that happen is with low-dollar improvements that focus on the urban core,” Thivener said. “That is where you are going to have the biggest bang for your buck.”

Thivener said he hopes the TPCBAC will vote to make bike boulevards a priority.

“It is time for the BAC to really make a stand and send clear direction to their representatives at the RTA Bike Pedestrian Working Group about what their priorities are, Thivener said. “If the BAC doesn’t ask for bike boulevards they are not really going to get them — or they will get them in a very slow, drawn out process. I am just trying to kick it up a notch. I think we are going to look back in 10 years and see this as the turning point.”

Download two presentations about bike boulevards here and here

Members of the public are encouraged to attend the meeting and voice their opinion about whether bike boulevards should be a priority.

22 comments
Coghauler
Coghauler

I'm on board with LandonQ about surface conditions. There is a 'surface improvement' element scheduledwith Bike Boulevards, but it bothers me that thatelement is sort of glossed over during discussions.Considering the attractiveness to the type of rider boulevards are addressing, signalized crossings arethe only more important feature. Knowing Tucson,however, pavement resurfacing would be droppedfrom the project if funds ran short. There has beennothing stopping Tucson from addressing the poorsurface areas of 3rd Street to appropriate levels forthe intended use.I think this is a big shift in perspective for Tucsoncycling.Do you spend funds on facilities that serve riders ordo you spend funds on facilities designed to attractriders. You can wait at the corner of Fontana & Jacintofor a long time for a bike to go by.I think the people out there riding now deserve priority.

Coghauler
Coghauler

I'm on board with LandonQ about surface conditions. There is a 'surface improvement' element scheduledwith Bike Boulevards, but it bothers me that thatelement is sort of glossed over during discussions.Considering the attractiveness to the type of rider boulevards are addressing, signalized crossings arethe only more important feature. Knowing Tucson,however, pavement resurfacing would be droppedfrom the project if funds ran short. There has beennothing stopping Tucson from addressing the poorsurface areas of 3rd Street to appropriate levels forthe intended use.I think this is a big shift in perspective for Tucsoncycling.Do you spend funds on facilities that serve riders ordo you spend funds on facilities designed to attractriders. You can wait at the corner of Fontana & Jacintofor a long time for a bike to go by.I think the people out there riding now deserve priority.

Tom Thivener
Tom Thivener

RedStar, 3rd/Swan bike/ped signal is funded and in design. Will have shades of 3rd/Alvernon with a sidepath running down the side of Swan to negate the intersection being off set. The RTA also approved funding for a HAWK signal at 22nd St and Lakeshore (Lakeshore on one side, Randolph Parkway on the other) about a month ago. It will be a couple years before the funding becomes available however. Other locations approved for the next few years: Speedway/10th Ave Speedway/Arcadia La Cholla/Merlin Campbell/Bantam Park/33rd St Stone/King

Tom Thivener
Tom Thivener

RedStar, 3rd/Swan bike/ped signal is funded and in design. Will have shades of 3rd/Alvernon with a sidepath running down the side of Swan to negate the intersection being off set. The RTA also approved funding for a HAWK signal at 22nd St and Lakeshore (Lakeshore on one side, Randolph Parkway on the other) about a month ago. It will be a couple years before the funding becomes available however. Other locations approved for the next few years: Speedway/10th Ave Speedway/Arcadia La Cholla/Merlin Campbell/Bantam Park/33rd St Stone/King

Pam
Pam

I love the boulevard idea and think the Fontana/4th Ave route is perfect for one. I guess I need to be convinced that a North/South route along 4th Ave. would serve more cyclists than, say, farther East than Wilmot, where the Third St. corridor begins. I'm midtown myself, but a lot of people live farther East than I do, and I have to believe that some of them ride bikes.

Pam
Pam

I love the boulevard idea and think the Fontana/4th Ave route is perfect for one. I guess I need to be convinced that a North/South route along 4th Ave. would serve more cyclists than, say, farther East than Wilmot, where the Third St. corridor begins. I'm midtown myself, but a lot of people live farther East than I do, and I have to believe that some of them ride bikes.

LandonQ
LandonQ

I think the discussion is less about being staunchly against the idea of boulevards, but more about how to most effectively utilize a finite amount of funds amongst the various improvement options. I certainly would love to see more boulevards, but Tom touched on one of my biggest concerns in prioritizing funding for them over bike lane improvements - the road condition of the proposed blvd routes. As Tom said, "residential streets don’t receive federal funds for periodic roadway resurfacing like Collector and Arterial streets do." I worry that if resurfacing isn't something that's controllable or within the budget, then poor surface conditions could easily become a limiting factor in persuading new riders to start riding or existing ones to go the extra few blocks out of their way from an arterial road to a blvd. If that's the case it may just be better investing those funds in improving, extending and increasing the safety of existing bike lanes. I'm definitely not against the idea more blvds, but I think this issue should at least be discussed before a final direction is decided upon.

LandonQ
LandonQ

I think the discussion is less about being staunchly against the idea of boulevards, but more about how to most effectively utilize a finite amount of funds amongst the various improvement options. I certainly would love to see more boulevards, but Tom touched on one of my biggest concerns in prioritizing funding for them over bike lane improvements - the road condition of the proposed blvd routes. As Tom said, "residential streets don’t receive federal funds for periodic roadway resurfacing like Collector and Arterial streets do." I worry that if resurfacing isn't something that's controllable or within the budget, then poor surface conditions could easily become a limiting factor in persuading new riders to start riding or existing ones to go the extra few blocks out of their way from an arterial road to a blvd. If that's the case it may just be better investing those funds in improving, extending and increasing the safety of existing bike lanes. I'm definitely not against the idea more blvds, but I think this issue should at least be discussed before a final direction is decided upon.

Erik Ryberg
Erik Ryberg

Okay so the people in the City and County whose job is to research this stuff and to spend their time thinking about it feel very strongly that bike boulevards are a good idea. The only downside is that, at least at first, they will be in the urban core, where most bicycling occurs, and not everywhere. I don't see the controversy. Shouldn't we believe people like Tom Thivener when they tell us about bike boulevards? Why exactly would bike boulevards work in Portland but not Tucson? I'm just not seeing or understanding the arguments against them. There are white stripes all over town that show virtually no benefit to cyclists -- I was on one today, on Mission. I guess on balance I was glad to have the stripe, but frankly the experience would have sucked either way. I'm for listening to Thivener since he's the one who spends his time studying these things. Let's do it!

Erik Ryberg
Erik Ryberg

Okay so the people in the City and County whose job is to research this stuff and to spend their time thinking about it feel very strongly that bike boulevards are a good idea. The only downside is that, at least at first, they will be in the urban core, where most bicycling occurs, and not everywhere. I don't see the controversy. Shouldn't we believe people like Tom Thivener when they tell us about bike boulevards? Why exactly would bike boulevards work in Portland but not Tucson? I'm just not seeing or understanding the arguments against them. There are white stripes all over town that show virtually no benefit to cyclists -- I was on one today, on Mission. I guess on balance I was glad to have the stripe, but frankly the experience would have sucked either way. I'm for listening to Thivener since he's the one who spends his time studying these things. Let's do it!

Red Star
Red Star

Thanks for the info, Tom Thivener . What is the status of the Swan bike/ped crossing (around 3rd, between 5th and Speedway)? Is a HAWK crossing of 22nd at Reid Park on the planning horizon? Is Oro Valley ok with these efforts? (well, you can't speak for them and their RTA but still...)

Red Star
Red Star

Thanks for the info, Tom Thivener . What is the status of the Swan bike/ped crossing (around 3rd, between 5th and Speedway)? Is a HAWK crossing of 22nd at Reid Park on the planning horizon? Is Oro Valley ok with these efforts? (well, you can't speak for them and their RTA but still...)

Tom Thivener
Tom Thivener

A lot of research has been done on bike boulevards. To give you an idea of what bike boulevards are all about please visit the City's website, which has a webpage devoted to information from around the county and on the one current bike boulevard project in Tucson. www.dot.tucsonaz.gov/projects/bikeboulevards The 4th Avenue/Fontana Avenue corridor is currently in final design with improvements slated for later this year. Plans for that project are also up on the same website. 3rd Street/University has never been officially called a Bike Boulevard but has some of the core elements that make up one: -reduced traffic: a car can't drive (legally) through several of the intersections along the route -intersection treatments: for most of the crossings of busy roads, bicyclists can count on a signal to help them cross Where 3rd Street/University is soft is in: -prioritized travel for bikes: stop signs at 9th Ave, Treat, Camino Miramonte, Dodge, Sahuara hurt the momentum of bicycles. Representatives from the Dunbar Spring neighborhood collected signatures at the 10th Ave location and were able to switch the signs at the traffic circle to Yields six months ago. The pavement is also rough in some stretches. Unfortunately residential streets don't receive federal funds for periodic roadway resurfacing like Collector and Arterial streets do. -signage: some wayfinding signs exist but they are out of date, too small to read while biking and often missing -traffic calming: not a lot of features currently exist to keep car speeds controlled currently The City plans to officially make 3rd St/University into a bike boulevard next year, and do some of these improvements, when a small pot funds become available for that particular corridor.

Tom Thivener
Tom Thivener

A lot of research has been done on bike boulevards. To give you an idea of what bike boulevards are all about please visit the City's website, which has a webpage devoted to information from around the county and on the one current bike boulevard project in Tucson. www.dot.tucsonaz.gov/projects/bikeboulevards The 4th Avenue/Fontana Avenue corridor is currently in final design with improvements slated for later this year. Plans for that project are also up on the same website. 3rd Street/University has never been officially called a Bike Boulevard but has some of the core elements that make up one: -reduced traffic: a car can't drive (legally) through several of the intersections along the route -intersection treatments: for most of the crossings of busy roads, bicyclists can count on a signal to help them cross Where 3rd Street/University is soft is in: -prioritized travel for bikes: stop signs at 9th Ave, Treat, Camino Miramonte, Dodge, Sahuara hurt the momentum of bicycles. Representatives from the Dunbar Spring neighborhood collected signatures at the 10th Ave location and were able to switch the signs at the traffic circle to Yields six months ago. The pavement is also rough in some stretches. Unfortunately residential streets don't receive federal funds for periodic roadway resurfacing like Collector and Arterial streets do. -signage: some wayfinding signs exist but they are out of date, too small to read while biking and often missing -traffic calming: not a lot of features currently exist to keep car speeds controlled currently The City plans to officially make 3rd St/University into a bike boulevard next year, and do some of these improvements, when a small pot funds become available for that particular corridor.

Colby
Colby

The link wasn't intended to show anything in particular, just an FYI - probably should have posted somewhere else. So what exactly would the Bike Blvds look like? I don't see Mountain Ave as particularly on steroids - most of the way its just a wide bike lane. It's location thru more residential areas and the new medians at the north end do help with traffic calming. So would the Bike Blvds have less than Mountain or just different?

Colby
Colby

The link wasn't intended to show anything in particular, just an FYI - probably should have posted somewhere else. So what exactly would the Bike Blvds look like? I don't see Mountain Ave as particularly on steroids - most of the way its just a wide bike lane. It's location thru more residential areas and the new medians at the north end do help with traffic calming. So would the Bike Blvds have less than Mountain or just different?

Coghauler
Coghauler

Be it known that the pictures in the above link do not depict bike boulevards. Does Tucson's grid street system work for or against bike boulevards? Will folks ride a block or two out of their way to get on a bike boulevard or will they just use the nearest residential street? Is it such a huge leap for someone who feels safe riding on Mountain Ave. (a bike boulevard on steroids and not really the kind of project this is all about) to feel safe riding on Glenn or Tucson Blvd. or Pima/Elm or Dodge?

Coghauler
Coghauler

Be it known that the pictures in the above link do not depict bike boulevards. Does Tucson's grid street system work for or against bike boulevards? Will folks ride a block or two out of their way to get on a bike boulevard or will they just use the nearest residential street? Is it such a huge leap for someone who feels safe riding on Mountain Ave. (a bike boulevard on steroids and not really the kind of project this is all about) to feel safe riding on Glenn or Tucson Blvd. or Pima/Elm or Dodge?

Tucson Velo
Tucson Velo

It would look a lot like 3rd Street, but with signs and pavement markings.

Tucson Velo
Tucson Velo

It would look a lot like 3rd Street, but with signs and pavement markings.

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